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American Motors'

Oleg Cassini

Matador coupe

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Click on image for larger view of an Oleg Cassini coupe postcard

Oleg Cassini put his special touch to the newest design in automobiles introduced for 1974


Noted fashion designer Oleg Cassini and his new Matador coupe in 1974

 

In 1974, American Motors had the only all-new model in the very popular "mid-size" automobile market segment in the USA. The Matador coupe was named "Best Styled Car of 1974" by the editors of Car and Driver magazine. It was designed by Richard A. Teague, AMC's Vice President of Styling. This was his last shot at a clean sheet design and this coupe had serious input from Mark Donohue, the famous race car driver.
Shown above is the "X" model with white stripes that began at the front fenders and wrapped unbroken clear across the back on the trunk lid.

The new coupe's body featured a wind-shaped look that was enhanced by a very long hood, as well as a short fastback rear deck with a family-sized trunk. The sleek "let's go" body was protected by unique free standing bumpers designed to recover from five mile per hour impacts with no damage. Engine selections ranged from the standard in-line six cylinder or 304 CID V-8, to the optional 360 and 401 CID V-8 performance mills.


The cover of the AMC Press Release package presenting
the Cassini Matador for 1974.

Continuing its pioneering alliances with famous designers, AMC had the American fashion designer Oleg Cassini develop a special luxury model for its new two door Matador. This unique collaboration gave the new coupe more elegance and panache to the latest car designed by Dick Teague, a noted automobile stylist.

The Cassini Matador was a very worthy competitor to the other popular "personal luxury" coupes at that time, such as Chevrolet Monte Carlo, Chrysler Cordoba, Pontiac Grand Prix, and Ford Torino Elite.
Unlike all the other personal luxury coupes in the 1970s, the Matador did not have an upright grille with a wide chrome surround with some painted sheetmetal separating it from the headlights. It did not have a formal squared-off roof, landau bars, opera windows, or opera lights. The Matador was also different from all the other clone luxury coupes in that it did not have big sweeping spear fenders in the rear.
In short, it was a pleasant change from the badge engineered competitors. A total of 62,629 Matador Coupes were sold in 1974, of which 6,165 were with the Oleg Cassini option.


Oleg Cassini - AMC photo from 1974 (left) and a more recent portrait (right)

Born in Paris as Oleg Cassini Loiewski, he was raised in Italy and came to the United States in 1936. He designed costumes for television and Broadway musicals, but Cassini became most renowned for making very elegant, ready-to-wear dresses. This was after Oleg Cassini became the official designer to Jacqueline Kennedy, wife of President Kennedy. She had a strong preference for French haute couture designers, but wearing their clothes would be viewed as disloyal to Americans. The First Lady selected the Hollywood designer Oleg Cassini for her official state wardrobe. Thus, in the 1960s, he created the "Camelot look" that became synonymous with well-crafted style. He had an intimate friendship with the President and his wife, spending almost every weekend with the Kennedy family throughout the golden Camelot years. Cassini was always at the heart of glamour and high-society as illustrated when Grace Kelly turned down his marriage proposal.

Oleg Cassini wrote a book published in 1987 -- "In My Own Fashion: An Autobiography". It is described as "At once outrageous and elegant, this witty memoir offers Cassini's unparalleled intimate perspective on the Golden Age of Hollywood, the Kennedy White House, and 50 years of relentless international jet-setting. Cassini's tale is a lavish riches-to-rags odyssey through some of the most extraordinary periods of our times. Born to an aristocratic European dynasty and forced to flee revolutionary Russia, Cassini grew up among the displaced best families of Europe. he had only just come of an age in Florence when, compelled to self-exile in a defiant romantic gesture, he left for America penniless, but determined to succeed."

Also authored in 1995 by Oleg Cassini -- "A Thousand Days of Magic: Dressing Jacqueline Kennedy for the White House". There are moments in history where events converge to create something rare and special. Jacqueline Kennedy's selection of Oleg Cassini to design her personal wardrobe as First Lady was one of those moments, not only in fashion history, but political history as well. As creator of the "Jackie look," Cassini made the First Lady one of the best-dressed women in the world and a glamourous icon of the Kennedy era.

Mr. Cassini died on March 17, 2006 in Long Island, New York.

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Designer of the special 1974 and 1975 AMC Matador option package, Oleg Cassini, signing his book about the Kennedys - circa 1996. The book is shown above with a link to Amazon.

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1974 AMC Matador coupe
with the Oleg Cassini package

Model # 7416-9

VIN # A4A169N165952

The Brougham two-door models included many standard features that surpassed what was available on other much bigger cars such as individually adjustable reclining seats for the driver and passenger.

Cassini models were only available in black, white, and copper. However, they could be ordered with almost all other Matador coupe options.

Options on the car bought at Courtesy AMC/Jeep by the late Dr. Jan Lesinski, a Professor of Medicine at the John Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland:

360 cubic inch 2-bbl V-8 engine, automatic column mounted transmission, power steering and disk brakes, air conditioning, Oleg Cassini package, tinted glass, visibility group, light group, adjustable steering wheel, blower type rear window defogger, AM/FM stereo radio, and FR78x14 white wall radial tires.

This car was finished in metallic Copper paint (code # F9) with the standard vinyl covered roof in copper color. This combination matched all the various accents on the exterior of the car including copper accents in the turbine-type design full wheel covers, in the grille, the headlamp bezels, and within the rear license plate recess.

The interior was black with copper trim accents (code # T-431N). This included special black upholstery with copper metal buttons, matching door panels with trim buttons, extra thick copper carpet in passenger area, custom steering wheel with copper inserts on the horn cover, instrument panel with copper dials and overlay, embroidered Cassini medallions in both the front seat headrests, as well as an intricate medallion on the front fender behind the wheel arch in the middle of the designer's signature. The glove box door also has the Oleg Cassini signature, as well as the trunk lid and front of hood.

Lastly, the option included black carpet in the trunk and a spare tire cover.

The Oleg Cassini medallion on the front fender signified this was a special car!

The interiors of these coupes was available only one way -- elegantly luxurious!
The Matador's big doors welcomed the driver and passengers into a comfortable and plush environment. The individually adjustable reclining seats had a special black fabric upholstery with copper metal buttons. The door panel trim matched the seats and the door pulls even had copper inserts. The embroidered Cassini medallions are in both the front seat headrests. The Oleg Cassini signature appeared on the glove box door. The dashboard panel featured a copper overlay, while the instrument dials came had matching copper center trim. The steering wheel had copper inserts on the horn cover. The interior was made even more dramatic with an extra thick carpet in copper that highlighted the entire passenger area.

Original copy of Bill of Lading

 


Distinctive interior featuring premium copper carpeting .Cassini crest embroidered on adjustable head rests.

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Yet another example of American Motor's pioneering thinking was its famous "Buyer Protection Plan". It was promoted in magazine advertisements (as shown on the left) along with its new cars. This warranty plan was the company's commitment to its customers. The approach was not yet another marketing gimmick to help lure a potential buyer into a dealership. Rather, it was a strong guarantee that covered every part of the car - except the tires - for at least 12 months or 12,000 miles under normal use and service. This required not only making quality a standard mode of operations at their design and production facilities, but also a partnership with all the AMC dealers to stand behind every single car.

Building on the slogan that "we back them better because we build them better" AMC provided not only a simple and strong guarantee on the car, but also the following additional benefits:
- a free loaner car should guaranteed repairs take overnight,
- special trip interruption plan that paid up to $150 for food and lodging if guaranteed repairs have to take place more than 100 miles from home, and
- a toll-free hotline to its offices in Detroit if a customer feels that something is not up to their expectations.

In short, AMC had a corporate commitment to stand behind its cars and it was willing to cover every part on their vehicles for their customers -- including those annoying little things that occasionally wear out like wiper blades and light bulbs.

It is significant to note that this plan was promoted by AMC at a time when all the other automobile producers - both domestic and imported - only had very short warranty coverage on their cars. AMC's protection went much further than anything offered from General Motors, Ford, Chrysler, the European car companies, or the increasing tide of imported brands from Japan.


The situation with gasoline availability, as well as its retail pump price, became so critical during the year that AMC advertised the new Matador coupe as:

Even our sporty mid-size has a little Gremlin in it.

The same engine that's made our Gremlin so famous is available as standard equipment on the 1974 AMC Matador Coupe. it has six cylinders for fuel economy with enough power to handle every driving situation.

What's more, Matador Coupe doesn't sacrifice comfort to gain economy. It has more front seat legroom than any other car in its class. And plenty of space for a family of five with luggage.

AMC Matador Coupe: sportiest mid-size car for 1974.


click for larger size

Dealer co-op ads in 1974

Cassini glass ware on eBay:

AMC promotional tumbler glass with etched Cassini crest.

Cassini key chain on eBay:

This genuine item (1 1/4" diameter) was used to promote the Oleg Cassini designed Matador. It has a stamped metal design, with black enameled background. Reverse side is a formed AMC logo. Very good looking for a key chain or as a medallion (off the ring). As a 15-year AMC employee, I acquired this item new. It is unused and comes with certificate of authenticity.

 

 

Racing Heritage

The AMC Matador was campaigned in NASCAR races.
A big sponsor was Coca-Cola.
Bobby Allison won the following races:
L.A. Times 500 - Ontario on November 24, 1974
Winston Western 500 - Riverside on January 19, 1975
Rebel 500 - Darlington on April 13, 1975
Southern 500 - Darlington on September 1, 1975
Other drivers of the AMC Matador included: Mark Donahue, Dave Marcis, Donny Allison, Gary Bettenhausen, George Follmer, and Jocko Maggiacomo.

On the left is a hobby kit of a #12 Matador Coupe driven by Bobby Allison - AMT #3030

More information -
http://www.geocities.com/mmbb444/Matador.html

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Pictured above is the Oleg Cassini signature edition for the 1975 model year. There were no significant appearance changes in the model's second year. The Cassini option made it the top-of-the-line Matador coupe. Because the Ambassador line of cars was discontinued after 1974, the Matador sedan, wagon, and coupe became the largest passenger automobiles built by American Motors. Production of these "senior" AMC models continued through the 1978 model year.

Sales of the Cassini Coupe in its second year fell to only 1,817 (out of a total of 22,368 Matador coupes that year). This decline was felt in the overall market as consumers wanted more fuel-efficient cars. The Unites States was experiencing increased energy and money worries during the period of the oil embargo and double digit inflation. Long lines at gasoline stations increased consumer desires for economical automobiles. Although the Matador coupe is a large car, the sloping roof line limits the seating comfort for only two adults. On the other hand, the Matador 4-door sedans and station wagons were real roomy family cars.

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Competition in the intermediate-size field was fierce. GM's Oldsmobile Cutlass was one of the most popular at the time. The new 1974 Salon model introduced a feature that was offered on all American Motors cars for decades -- reclining seats! It came with a Rocket V-8, but with the addition of radial tires on a "special" suspension, as well as an emblem with flags of nations -- the marketers were able to describe it as "built in the Grand Touring" tradition! In 1974, the company was in a desperate situation as described in the following article:

The Downsizing Decision by Joseph Kraft; New Yorker issue 1980-05-05.
"On October 15, 1973, the Arab states belonging to the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, or opec, instituted limits on oil shipments to the United States, which lasted until May 18, 1974. Gasoline shortages had developed by Thanksgiving, and gas lines started to form. The problems attending the purchase of gasoline, and doubts about its future availability, soon affected the automobile market. Sales of imports from foreign-owned manufacturers, led by small cars featuring fuel economy, jumped by more than ten per cent, to almost fifteen per cent of the total American market. American Motors, with its compact, increased its sales by fifty per cent, to almost five per cent of the market. Chrysler and Ford, which had by this time marketed several smaller vehicles (among them the Dodge Dart and the Ford Pinto), held their shares of the market - roughly fifteen and twenty-five per cent, respectively, including cars manufactured abroad by them. But G.M., which had shown minimal interest in compacts after the early nineteen-sixties and still emphasized its line of gas guzzlers, weighing two tons or more and powered by huge eight-cylinder engines, suffered badly. Between the 1973 model year and the first quarter of 1974, its share of the domestic market dropped by almost fourteen per cent, at one point dipping below forty per cent of the total. "We were flat on our behinds," Richard C. Gerstenberg, who was the chairman of the company at the time, said in a recent interview. "People were wondering, Is the company going to make it?" But, as it happened, the market for big cars picked up in 1975, and G.M. enjoyed record earnings." Source: http://www.newyorker.com/printables/archive/030811fr_archive


AMC dealer's postcard featuring a 1974 Matador Coupe finished in copper with black vinyl roof in the regular Brougham model
(picture shown above is not with the Cassini option)

 

The top line Cassini signature package was replaced with the "Barcelona" model for the 1976, 1977, and 1978 Matadors. Click here for a 1978 coupe

The Matador 4-door sedan and station wagon models were completely different from the 2-door coupes. Click here for a 1974 sedan and a 1977 sedan.

The top-of-the-line for AMC in 1974 were the Ambassador sedan and station wagon.

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Please visit the Coupe Coop

More information on the Matador Coupe is available in the "Collectible Automobile" magazine article entitled -- 1974-78 AMC Matador Coupe: Kenosha's Question Marque -- December 1996 issue.

The Coupe Coop is a compendium of sources on these cars!

Go back to list of cars from Courtesy AMC/JeepGo to topby Chris Z